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How Cisco plans to secure the private cloud

Angus Kidman

Cisco's Chief Technology Officer Padmasree Warrior sees the potential for cloud computing, but also recognises the reluctance of most organisations to ship data wholesale into the cloud because of security concerns. How does Cisco plan to address that problem?

"There are some significant barriers explaining why many companies hesitate moving to the cloud, and one of them clearly is security," Warrior noted a recent multi-city media briefing. "Not knowing where data resides is a huge barrier for many companies."

"This switch won't happen overnight, and I don't think the switch will be a complete switch. There's a lot of customers that don't want to give up control of their data. Certain applications they're willing to move to the cloud, but other applications they're not." (Lack of well-defined approaches to service-level agreements and vendor lock-in are the other major barriers, Warrior argues.)

Given its dominance in the enterprise networking space, it's little surprise that Cisco wants to jump on the cloud bandwagon. However, Warrior's take on the cloud and how to secure it is derived just as much from a less obvious and more recent element of Cisco's technology arsenal, namely the WebEx collaboration tools which it acquired in March 2007.

"There's a specific business model around application delivery in the SAAS space which we clearly understand [because of WebEx]," she said. "Expanding that towards other forms of collaboration is the goal."

Virtualisation also plays a major role in that vision. "We believe in the next few years virtualisation will become the underpinning for evolving to a model based around cloud computing," she said.

The main benefit of the virtualisation element is in flexibility. For instance, with WebEx, Cisco managed to move 160 virtual machines from one location to another in eight hours.

Despite WebEx being an essentially in-the-cloud solution, Warrior doesn't see Cisco developing a pure cloud solution in those areas because of security concerns. "Certain parts will be from the cloud, but some will be on premise," she said. "We have to recognise that it will be an evolution because nobody wants to throw away their existing investment in the data centre and completely move into the cloud. As we develop other SAAS capabilities we're looking at bringing them into an on-premises model as well."

The ultimate goal is to develop a security solution for the "private cloud", where a well-defined corporate policy can be seamlessly applied when a business needs to access extra cloud resources. "If I'm an enterprise I want to build my own private cloud but burst capacity to a service provider, with my policies," Warrior said. "It's not around ownership, but around control. It's the ability to bring the control and the governance back into the business but allow those components in a meaningful way that needs to be developed."

The main barrier to that is a lack of broad cloud interoperability. "The cloud model that exists today is all isolated islands. How do you provide that interoperability and federation?" Warrior said, before proposing a typically Cisco-centric solution. "To solve that, you need the network. We see the opportunity to extend the role of the network into this. The true benefit of the cloud -- you lose all of that if you don't have interoperability."